Microsoft Gets Emotional With Business Software Upgrade
Microsoft Dynamics developers used a new methodology that studies emotions to create "desirable" software.
Do you desire your Microsoft software? Don't laugh. Although Microsoft sometimes gets dinged in the area of software usability (typically by Apple aficionados), Microsoft's Dynamics division is trying to create software that is not just usable, but desirable, for business users in such areas as finance, human resources, and supply chain management.
The new Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 enterprise-resource planning suite Microsoft is previewing at its Convergence conference in Orlando, Fla., this week was developed with a new methodology, called Feel IT, that examines' users emotional reactions to software. Microsoft also is announcing the availability of online services such as PayPal and eBay from within its Dynamics applications, and at the conference will talk up efforts to go after Salesforce.com's customer base with a version of CRM Live that it'll host from its own data centers, to be available within the next few months.
Microsoft also is announcing a tighter relationship with partner EDS to provide IT services and hosting for both on-premise and on-demand CRM software.
The Feel IT methodology is another step up the evolution rung beyond usability, said Jakob Nielsen, principal user experience manager at Microsoft Dynamics. "In the beginning, there was a lot of focus on features and making applications useful," Nielsen said. "Over the last 15 to 20 years, the focus has been not only on usefulness, but usability. We're saying that may not be enough. Software should not only be usable, but the entire experience desirable."
Nielsen's team worked with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark to develop "desirability studies" that capture not just users responses to software, but their emotions. A key part included showing users dozens of images and asking them to select which ones best expressed how the software they were testing made them feel. Positive images included a feather floating in the air and one of a relaxed office worker with his feet on the desk. Unsettling images included a chair with one of its four legs askew, a car crash, hair pulling, and a messy file cabinet. When asked why they chose specific pictures, users' responses provided much better feedback for fixing usability issues than straight, verbal descriptions of what they did or didn't like, Nielsen said.
Using feedback from Feel IT, Microsoft created more than 30 "role centers" in AX 2009, or templates designed for specific job types, so that users don't waste time with functions or information they don't want or need. Other development teams with Microsoft are considering or starting to adopt Feel IT, Nielsen said.
Feel IT will be used to develop future versions of various ERP applications, including Dynamics NAV 2009 due out later this year, said Mogens Elsberg, GM of Microsoft Dynamics. Microsoft, meanwhile, will continue to develop for all four platforms of ERP it sells that were gained through various acquisitions, which also include Dynamics GP and Dynamics SL.
The initial plan in 2003 to build a new set of ERP applications from those acquisitions, called Project Green, apparently has been dead for some time, although Microsoft spins that change a bit differently. "Project Green has completed," Elsberg said firmly. By that, he means the Dynamics division has achieved its goal of creating some common code and user experiences across the apps, such as the same user interface and navigation process, but there will not be a new set of apps that converge all of the acquired apps, he said. Customers will choose which of the four products is best for them based on a variety of reasons, including reseller's vertical offerings on products and availability of products by geographic region.
New features in AX 2009, due out by June, include a place for users to retrieve compliance related-information; an "integrated workflow framework" for more flexible business processes, more global capabilities in the form of support for multiple languages, sites, time zones, and share-services scenarios; and integration of Microsoft's unified communications platform.
Microsoft also is announcing that it will offer online services within its ERP and CRM apps, starting with PayPal for payments and EBay for selling. It'll also offer a keyword marketing service, described as campaign tracking and management for search engine marketing, yet it was unclear at press time whether this is a Microsoft-branded service or from another source. The creation of software mash-ups using business software and established Web services is a growing trend; Oracle announced an update to its on-demand CRM software this week that lets customers incorporate RSS news feeds into applications.
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